Lessons from Dad

Last week my father retired from the Chicago Police Department.   After 38 years on the force (34 of which he spent as a Homicide Detective in the worst areas of Chicago) he finally called it quits.   Its an event I truly thought I would never see.  My dad has had quite a colorful and storied career, not just with the Police Department but with his various other jobs he held over the years as well. It includes everything from security jobs, to being a member of the US Marshalls Fugitive Apprehension Unit to being a regular Bodyguard to Frank Sinatra.  Even retired he has started his own security and investigations company.  Some things never change I guess.

His dedication to providing for his family was an inspiration and he instilled inside each of his children a great work ethic and desire to be more.  He was a great example of not just doing what you do, but do what you do well.  

On his last full day, a few of the guys he worked with decided to give him a going away bash at the ‘cop bar’ my dad has gone to ever since I can remember.   My brother and I were lucky enough to be there as well.   The event started just after the first shift guys got out, and word soon spread around the Police force of this impromptu gathering.   As the day and night dragged on hundreds of police officers strolled through that door.  Officers past and present almost to midnight came through those doors.   It also goes to prove an old Chicago adage that every cop knows every other cop in Chicago.  He will have a formal retirement party but this event was interesting in its own right in many regards.

My dad always preached to us that you should take care of the people you work with and those that work for you.  Here before us over the course of hours and hours were countless officers who eagerly told me that they would take a bullet for my father any day.   They regaled me with stories (Oh the stories!) of his actions on the police force (most of which my father would never talk about himself)  and how he led his teams.  They talked about tough choices he had to make (life and death in many cases) and sometimes taking the hard road.  But here before us was a lifetime of living like he preached.  It was humbling on so many levels.

I know this post is a big departure from my normal Operations or Data Center topics but I believe it has relevance.  Being a manager you have to make tough choices.   Whether your building teams or just blocking and tackling, you sometimes feel alone and that challenges are too hard to overcome.   The key in these situations is to be more than a manager.  The mechanics of your job can always be done and can likely be done by any other.  Where you truly distinguish yourself is in your ability to lead.   Can you inspire in others a sense of accomplishing the task at hand?  You get so much more out of people when they feel that you are vested in them and their success.   I am not talking about some faux – put on – trickery.  I am talking about investing in the people you work with.   Investing yourself in them and the task at hand.

I hope in my life I am a quarter as successful as my father was in investing in his peers and reports and ultimately his friends.  Its the true definition of success.   You will never remember whether you successfully hit a budget target one year to another, but you will remember those times that you and your teams pulled off the impossible.  Like all human interactions – its that personal connection that ultimately counts. 

My Hero. My Dad.


Kickin’ Dirt


I recently got an interesting note from Joel Stone, the Global Operations Chief at Global Switch.  As some of you might know Joel used to run North American Operations for me at Microsoft.  I guess he was digging through some old pictures and found this old photo of our initial site selection trip to Quincy, Washington.

As you can see, the open expanse of farmland behind me, ultimately became Microsoft’s showcase facilities in the Northwest.  In fact you can even see some farm equipment just behind me.   It got me reminiscing about that time and how exciting and horrifying that experience can be.

At the time Quincy, Washington was not much more than a small agricultural town, whose leaders did some very good things (infrastructurally speaking) and benefitted by the presence of large amounts of hydro-power.  When we went there, there were no other active data centers for hundreds of miles, there were no other technology firms present, and discussions around locating a giant industrial-technology complex here seemed as foreign as landing on the moon might have sounded during World War Two.

Yet if you fast forward to today companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Sabey, Intuit, and others have all located technology parks in this one time agricultural hub.   Data Center Knowledge recently did an article on the impacts to Quincy. 

Many people I speak to at conferences generally think that the site selection process is largely academic.   Find the right intersection of a few key criteria and locate areas on a map that seem to fit those requirements.   In fact, the site selection strategy that we employed took many different factors into consideration each with its own weight leading ultimately to a ‘heat map’ in which to investigate possible locations. 

Even with some of the brightest minds, and substantial research being done, its interesting to me that ultimately the process breaks down into something I call ‘Kickin Dirt’.   Those ivory tower exercises ultimately help you narrow down your decisions to a few locations, but the true value of the process is when you get out to the location itself and ‘kick the dirt around’.   You get a feel for the infrastructure, local culture, and those hard to quantify factors that no modeling software can tell you.  

Once you have gone out and kicked the dirt,  its decision time.  The decision you make, backed by all the data and process in the world, backed by personal experience of the locations in question,  ultimately nets out to someone making a decision.   My experience is that this is something that rarely works well if left up to committee.  At some point someone needs the courage and conviction, and in some cases outright insanity to make the call. 

If you are someone with this responsibility in your job today – Do your homework, Kick the Dirt, and make the best call you can.  

To my friends in Quincy – You have come along way baby!  Merry Christmas!